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III SHE
Major Harper was the most capable officer on the brigade staff. I had never met a man of such force and dignity who was so modestly affable. His new clerk dined with him that first day, at noon in his tent, alone. Hot biscuits! with butter! and rock salt. Fried bacon also--somewhat vivacious, but still bacon. When the tent began to fill with the smoke of his meerschaum pipe, and while his black boy cleared the table for us to resume writing, we talked of books. Here was joy! I vaunted my love for history, biography, the poets, but spoke lightly of fiction.

The smoker twinkled. "You're different from Ned Ferry," he said.

"Has he a taste for fiction?" I asked, with a depreciative smirk.

"Yes, a beautiful story is a thing Ned Ferry loves with a positive passion."

"I suppose we might call him a romanticist," said I, "might we not?"

The patient gentleman smiled again as he said, "Oh--Gholson can attend to that."

I took up my pen, and until twilight we spoke thereafter only of abstracts and requisitions. But then he led me on to tell him all about myself. I explained why my first name was Richard and my second name Thorndyke, and dwelt especially on the enormous differences between the Smiths from whom we were and those from whom we were not descended.

And then he told me about himself. He was a graduate of West Point, the only one on the brigade staff; was a widower, with a widowed brother, a maiden sister, two daughters, and a niece, all of one New Orleans household. The brothers and sister were Charlestonians, but the two men had married in New Orleans, twin sisters in a noted Creole family. The brother's daughter, I was told, spoke French better than English; the Major's elder daughter spoke English as perfectly as her father; and the younger, left in her aunt's care from infancy, knew no French at all. I wondered if they were as handsome as their white-haired father, and when I asked their names I learned that the niece, Cécile, was a year the junior of Estelle and as much the senior of Camille; but of the days of the years of the pilgrimage of any of the three "children" he gave me no slightest hint; they might be seven years older, or seven years younger, than his new clerk.

To show him how little I cared for any girl's age whose father preferred not to mention it, I reverted to his sister and brother. She was in New Orleans, he said, with her nieces, but might at any moment be sent into the Confederacy, being one of General Butler's "registered enemies." The brother was--

"Out here somewhere. No, not in the army exactly; no, nor in the navy, but--I expect him in camp to-night. If he comes you'll have to work when you ought to be asleep. No, he is not in the secret service, only in a secret service; running hospital supplies through the enemy's lines into ours."

I was thrilled. I was taken into the staff's confidence! Me, Smith! That Major Harper would tell me part of a matter to conceal the rest of it did not enter my dreams, good as I was at dreaming. The flattery went to my brain, and presently, without the faintest preamble, I asked if there was any war-correspondent at headquarters just now. There came a hostile flash in his eyes, but instantly it passed, and with all his happy mildness he replied, "No, nor any room for one."

Just then entered an ordnance-sergeant, so smart in his rags that the Major's affability seemed hardly a condescension. He asked me to supper with his mess--"of staff attatchays," he said, winking one eye and hitching his mouth; at which the Major laughed with kind disapprobation, and the jocose sergeant explained as we went that that was only one of Scott Gholson's mispronunciations the boys were trying to tease him out of.

I found the clerks' mess a bunch of bright good fellows. After supper, stretched on the harsh turf under the June stars, with everyone's head (save mine) in some one's lap, we smoked, talked and sang. Only Gholson was called away, by duty, and so failed to hear the laborious jests got off at his expense. To me the wits were disastrously kind. Never had I been made a tenth so much of; I was even urged to sing "All quiet along the Potomac to-night," and was courteously praised when I had done so. But there is where affliction overtook me; they debated its authorship. One said a certain newspaper correspondent, naming him, had proved it to be the work--I forget of whom. But I shall never forget what followed. Two or three challenged the literary preeminence of that correspondent, and from as many directions I was asked for my opinion. Ah me! Lying back against a pile of saddles with my head in my hands, sodden with self-assurance, I replied, magnanimously, "Oh, I don't set up for a critic, but--well--would you call him a better man than Charlie Toliver?"

"Who--o?" It was not one who asked; the whos came like shrapnel; and when, not knowing what else to do, I smiled as one dying, there went up a wail of mirth that froze my blood and then heated it to a fever. The company howled. They rolled over one another, crying, "Charlie Toliver!--Charlie Toliver!--Oh, Lord, where's Scott Gholson!--Charlie Toliver!"--and leaped up and huddled down and moaned and rolled and rose and looked for me.

But, after all, fortune was merciful, and I was gone; the Major had summoned me--his brother had come. I went circuitously and alone. As I started, some fellow writhing on the grass cried, "Charlie Tol--oh, this is better than a tcharade!" and a flash of divination enlightened me. While I went I burned with shame, rage and nervous exhaustion; the name Scott Gholson had gasped in my ear was the name of her in the curtained wagon, and I cursed the day in which I had heard of Charlotte Oliver.


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